By George Munene
According to research on farmer willingness to employ potato cold storage, although only 26 per cent of households had previous storage experience, 70.7 per cent of growers were willing to rent cold storage facilities.
These findings have implications not only for potato storage in the study areas but also for commodities whose harvest is perishable and season bound (e.g., vegetables, fruits), where taking advantage of differing prices during different seasons may offer price stabilization.
The results on potato prices over a five-year period (2014–2019) show that seasonal price gaps were higher than the estimated willingness to pay (WTP) for storage revealing the viability of investing in rented cold storage facilities.
Food losses arising from poor storage adversely affect over 800,000 potato-producing households with a total cultivated area of about 681,000 ha, corresponding to 18 per cent of the total cultivated land.
Using a survey of 502 households in Nyandarua and Bomet Counties the WTP for storing Shangi, a common variety with a short shelf life (1 month) was Sh104 (1.16/kg/month) compared with Sh96.4 (1.07/kg/month) for the Unica variety with a slightly longer shelf life.
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The study focused on potatoes because of four main reasons: The crop has a low value-bulk ratio compared with grains. The crop is a semi-perishable commodity— it needs to be stored in ideal conditions. Third, like any other perishable bulky vegetable, the marketing of potatoes is faced with several challenges and is highly correlated to the weather and harvesting patterns. Lastly, the sustainability of the efforts to establish cold storage in some potato-producing counties remains uncertain driven by the lack of understanding on whether at a commercial scale, smallholder farmers would be willing to store their produce or even pay the full costs of cold storage.
Existing evidence shows that many farmers in developing countries store little of their harvest. Corollary to this is a seemingly puzzling behavior where farmers tend to sell their crops immediately after harvest and, a few months later, return to the market as consumers, when prices have risen.
These price fluctuations especially for the essential food staples (such as maize, grain legumes, and tubers) tend to be very pronounced across many markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, making storage of food commodities for some time after harvest key in alleviating the downside of price fluctuations for farmers.
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Potato is the second most important staple crop grown in Kenya after maize, and before rice. According to The International Potato Center (CIP), it is grown by 800,000 small-scale farmers generating employment for an estimated 2.5 million people along its value chain.
The leading potato-producing Counties in Kenya are Nyandarua, Meru, Nakuru, Narok, Bomet, Bungoma, West Pokot, and Elgeyo Marakwet.
The country’s yields however continue to stagnate with average tuber yield at seven tonnes/hectare and many fields producing below three t/ha.